TOKYO -- Schools and boards of education across Japan are getting an earful from locals angry about children playing outside because they are "going against the intent" of nationwide temporary school closures due to the novel coronavirus.
Meanwhile, schools in Tokyo, Osaka and other parts of the country have been sending emails to parents and guardians urging them to be cautious about letting their children out of doors.
One read, "We have received reports from local residents of 15 or more children playing in the park. ... Please instruct (your children) to remain at home indoors and avoid unnecessary, non-emergency outings." Another informed the recipients, "Area residents have told us, 'There are groups of children playing (outside) starting from the morning. They should have to stay at home, should they not?'"
Parents and guardians have taken to Twitter to express confusion over what they are supposed to do in the face of this community criticism, with tweets such as, "But adults can go out and have fun as they please," and, "Is it really so bad to let kids out for a bit of fresh air?"
The education board of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, a suburb just east of Tokyo, told the Mainichi Shimbun that it had been receiving complaints from residents not just about children at video game arcades, but also that "they are getting together at the park during the day and making noise." The board has said staff "are patrolling commercial facilities both inside and outside the city." However, it also noted that there are cases in which children are in the company of guardians, and said that it has essentially left it up to each household whether to let their children outside while schools are shut.
"We haven't made any rules saying, 'This park is OK, but that other place is off-limits.' We can only remind guardians to be aware of the intent of the school closures," a board staffer said.
In its Feb. 28 notification sent to all of Japan's boards of education, the education ministry stated that children "should be instructed to avoid going out to places where many people gather, and essentially stay at home during the temporary school closures." On March 4, the ministry issued a fresh notice cautioning students not to go outside "even if they have a very light cold," and to "not go to events or venues with bad ventilation and where people speak with each other in close quarters, no matter how large the space or event may be."
However, on whether children should be allowed outside to play, the ministry's health and dietary education section declared that "depending on how they get together, we do not believe that there is any hard and fast rule that it is bad for children to play in parks or otherwise exercise out of doors." The section added that it is instructing students not to go into closed spaces such as karaoke establishments.
After receiving a torrent of mixed reports and opinions from across Japan, the education ministry again refreshed its notice to school boards on March 9, stating outright, "The school closure directive is not meant to hinder students from going outside for an appropriate level of exercise, going for walks or other activities to maintain their health."
(Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Regional News Department)